On June 28, 1914, a Bosnian-Serb assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Exactly one month later, after a period of diplomatic maneuvering among major European powers, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.
Initially, the United States followed a policy of non-intervention. In 1915 a German U-boat sank the British liner, Lusistania, killing 128 Americans. Under pressure from president Wilson, Germany suspended attacks on passenger vessels.
That lasted until June of 1917.
Only after the sinking of seven U.S. merchant ships did the U.S. Congress finally declare war on Germany, on April 6, 1917. United States warships were immediately pressed into service to transport and protect troops sent to France. The east coast of the US was left virtually unprotected.
By June 5 the U-151, the first enemy warship to invade US waters in more than 100 years, arrived off the Carolina coast. She had already laid mines in the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and New York harbor. From that time until the end of the war, in November of 1918, seven German submarines attacked and sank eleven vessels off the coast of North Carolina (the Harpathian, the Vinland, the Pinar Del Rio, the Vindeggen, the Heinrich Lund, the Jennings, the Stanley M. Seaman, Lightship #71, the Merak, the Mirlo, and the Nordhav).
The sinking of the lightship, a 124 foot vessel anchored by heavy chains and a 5,000 pound anchor in 185 fathoms of water 12 miles off shore of Cape Hatteras, came as a total surprise. Everyone believed that German submarines would consider her light as important for their navigation as for US shipping.
When the Mirlo struck a mine laid down by German U-boats in August of 1918 the 6,679 ton tanker, with a full cargo of gasoline, exploded, quickly turning the ocean into a raging inferno. The rescue of 42 of the 52 crew members by Coast Guard Captain John Allen Midgett and his crew from the Chicamacomico Station was one of the most dramatic rescues in the annals of the United States Coast Guard. Captain Midgett and his crew all received Gold Lifesaving Medals for their bravery and heroism.
For a more complete account of World War I and the Outer Banks please see Chapter 14, "Unguarded Shores," in the book, Graveyard of the Atlantic, by David Stick.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the "Joe Bell" flower. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news012112.htm.